NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted August 28, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 10-11-2559.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Daniel V. Gautieri, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the brief).
James P. McClain, Acting Atlantic County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Mario C. Formica, Special Deputy Attorney General/ Acting Chief Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Waugh and Haas.
Defendant Dontaye Taylor appeals his conviction, following his entry of a guilty plea, for possession of cocaine, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1). The issue on appeal is whether the motion judge erred in denying Taylor's motion to suppress evidence seized at the time of his arrest. We affirm.
On September 8, 2010, Atlantic City Detective Sergeant James Sarkos and other officers conducted a surveillance of the Rodeway Inn. They did so on the basis of a tip from a confidential informant that drugs were being distributed at that location, and information from a second informant that the driver of a white Ford Expedition was selling cocaine in Atlantic City. Sarkos parked his unmarked police car in an adjacent parking lot, from which he testified he was able to observe the Inn's parking lot through a chain-link fence while seated in his vehicle.
According to Sarkos, he observed a white Ford Expedition enter the Inn's parking lot at approximately 9:45 p.m. He then observed a white male approach the driver's side of the vehicle, hand money to the driver, and receive a small object from the driver. The man put the object in his pocket and walked away. Based on his training and experience, Sarkos believed that he had witnessed a drug transaction.
Sarkos testified that he did not assign anyone to follow and arrest the man who approached the Expedition, but drove with the other officers to follow that vehicle. After it stopped on Mansion Avenue, Sarkos and the other detectives approached the vehicle. One of the officers ordered Taylor, who was the driver, to get out of the Expedition. Taylor's wife, Ashleen Taylor, and three children were also inside.
Sarkos searched Taylor, whom he considered to be in custody at the time. In Taylor's left pants pocket, Sarkos found a bag containing two smaller bags, both of which in turn contained what was later found to be cocaine. He also found $2030 in currency.
Taylor was the subject of a three-count indictment in November. He subsequently moved to suppress the drugs and currency seized when he was searched by Sarkos. The motion judge heard testimony on July 20 and September 14, 2011. Sarkos testified for the State. James G. Brennenstuhl, Sr., an investigator, and Ashleen Taylor were called by the defense. Brennenstuhl testified about his examination and measurement of the Inn's parking lot and the location of the surveillance vehicle, as well as the line of sight between the two. Ashleen Taylor testified that she and her family were in the Inn parking lot because they were thinking about staying at the motel that night. She also testified that nobody approached the Expedition or spoke with Taylor while they were at the parking lot.
The judge issued an oral decision following the second day of the plenary hearing. He explained his reasons for denying the motion to dismiss. Taylor accepted a plea agreement and pled guilty to the first count of the indictment on October 28. He was sentenced to incarceration for four years on January 27, 2012. The ...